Castle Roy

Written by Chris Thornton | 30th of November 2022
Castle Roy

Castle Roy is a 12th-century castle near Nethy Bridge in the Highlands of Scotland. Within the last few years, it has received much remedial work to stop the castle from further disrepair. After local newspapers covered the repair work and launch in September, I discovered the existence of Castle Roy. I decided to visit with my family after a pre-Christmas holiday in Aviemore in late November.

Dirt track to Castle Roy.
Follow the path right instead of climbing this dirt path.

Castle Roy Car Park

We rolled up to the car park on a cold winter's morning after a quick stop at the beautiful Loch Garten, a short distance to the south. The frozen puddles crunched underfoot as we exited the car in the dedicated car park directly next to the castle... it wasn't the castle the kids noticed first, though; it was Murdo, the highland cow, who was there to greet us and pose for photos. My daughter Olivia was particularly taken with him.

Murdo the highland cow saying hello at Roy Castle.
Murdo saying hello when we arrived at Castle Roy.

There are many informational boards in the car park explaining the recent repairs to the castle along with its interesting history. There was no ticket office or admission fee, so we followed the brand new path up to the castle and opted to turn right and follow the path instead of climbing the steep muddy path to the ruined corner of the castle. The new paths are lovely, with light gravel leading up to the main entrance.

Castle Roy welcome sign.
New signage at the castle.
 
Castle Roy walls, near the matrimonial meadow.
Following the path to the entrance, the walls look impressively tall.

Entering Castle Roy

The official entrance is the best way to access the castle, there is an information board, and the archway has been finished off with metal bordering to make it safe from falling masonry.

Main entrance for Castle Roy.
The main entrance.
 
Castle Roy archway.
Example of some of the work to make the entrance safe.

What strikes you most about entering Castle Roy is the height and thickness of the walls - 25ft (7.6m) high and 7ft (2.1m) thick!

The interior courtyard area has been beautifully restored, with a grassy centre and gravel path to all four corners. This area would originally have housed wooden buildings protected within the thick high walls.

The castle is an irregular four-sided stronghold with very little done to it over the centuries, making it a fantastic snapshot of castle design from that period.

Castle Roy courtyard.
The courtyard.

A wooden gantry takes you up to the north-western corner/tower of the castle, leading to more information boards and a window (with an original lintel) to the views to the north and over the castle interior itself. They also have a Scottish Saltire flying proudly here. This tower area also has an inscribed stone with two sets of initials containing three letters (which I, unfortunately, forgot to photograph!).

Looking down the stair.
View from the top of the wooden stair.
 
Courtyard seen from the Castle Roy tower.
Courtyard as seen from a higher elevation.
 
At the top of the stairs at Castle Roy.
The north west tower at the top of the stair.
 
View from the tower window.
View from the tower.
 
Looking inside out of the Castle Roy entrance. The North Wall.
Entrance as seen from the inside.

Although the southeast corner of the castle has disintegrated, the space has been capitalised upon by building a viewing platform which gives an absolutely breathtaking view of the Cairngorm mountains and the Abernethy Old Kirk.

View from the castle wall.
The view from the missing part of the castle wall.
Castle Roy courtyard looking north.
North courtyard view.
 
Castle Roy courtyard view from the broken wall.
Castle Roy courtyard view from the broken wall.
 
Castle Roy courtyard looking south.
Courtyard view looking south.
 
Cairngorm mountain range.
The Cairngorms are visible from the wall viewing platform..
 
Looking towards the A95 at Castle Roy.
Looking towards the A95 in the distance.
 
Wall cross section.
This photo shows the thickness of the walls.

Outside the castle boundary to the west is another great viewing platform with an information board, naming the sights that can be seen, including the names of the mountain peaks on the horizon.

The History of Castle Roy

Here is a very brief outline of the history of Castle Roy.

1190 to 1220 - Clan Comyn built Castle Roy upon a small glacial mound.

1226 - Alexander II grants Lordship of the Abernethy to James Earl of Mar.

1306 - The Comyn family are wiped out by Robert the Bruce.

1381 - Alexander Stewart becomes Lord of the Castle.

1560 - Mary Queen of Scots makes James Stewart (her half-brother) the first Earl of Moray.

1420 - Clan Grant gains stewardship of Castle Roy and remains the dominant clan in this area today.

1592 - John Grant gains Lordship of Abernethy.

1994 - The Castle Roy Trust gains ownership of the castle and stalwartly begins its restoration work on the castle and its grounds.

2022 - The Castle officially opens to the public on the 25th of September.

West side of Castle Roy.
West side of Castle Roy.
 
West Postern entrance. A thirthteen century fortress.
West side of the castle showing Postern entrance.
 
Detail of Posten gate.
Detail of the postern gate.

Castle Roy Trust

The Castle Roy Trust was formed over 30 years ago, and it's incredible what they have achieved in that time to make the castle safe again, not only for visitors but weddings and performances on the grounds.

Their mission statement says it all, really:

Our aim is to preserve the Castle, as it stands, for future generations. To maintain it as a free, all abilities, visitor and education centre and to create a community venue for the outdoor performing arts and other events, such as weddings and family parties.

It's amazing what they have achieved when compared to older photographs. They have transformed this castle into a fantastic tourist attraction.

Why not support them by purchasing one of their square yards or befriending their heilan' coo. You can own a square yard for a guide price of around £50.

Murdo the coo
Murdo in his paddock, why not become his friend?.

Nethy Bridge

The village of Nethy Bridge is situated within the Strathspey area of the Highlands, surrounded by beautiful forests and mountains. Nethy Bridge has a great deal to offer, including hotels, B&Bs, and self-catering accommodation but also boasts access to many outdoor activities, one of the most impressive being the ancient Caledonian pine forest and the absolutely beautiful Loch Garten a short distance away. Nethy Bridge Community Centre is a hub for the town.

The forests at Nethy boast many rare species, including:

  • Capercaillie

  • Pine Martens

  • Red Squirrels

  • Crested Tits

  • Crossbills

  • Wild Cats

Capercaillie signage near Loch Garten.
A sign from Loch Garten near Castle Roy.

Abernethy Old Kirk

I didn't have time to investigate this old church, but I took a quick photo of the grounds. There are some impressive-looking headstones that I will check out in future! The Kirk of Abyrnethy features on Timothy Pont's map.

Abernethy Old Kirk
Abernethy Old Kirk.

Castle Roy FAQs

Here are a few frequently asked questions on Castle Roy.

How old is Castle Roy?

The castle has been officially carbon-dated to 1190 - 1220, making the castle around 822 years old! Castle Roy may be the oldest masonry fortification in Scotland.

Why is it called Castle Roy?

No one is sure where the castle got its name, perhaps a member of the Comyn family, who were prolific castle builders in central Scotland... or from the Gaelic term "ràth", meaning ancient fortress/mound/royal seat.

How to get to Castle Roy

Castle Roy is just a 3-minute drive north from the picturesque modern village of Nethy Bridge. Just follow the B970 north out of the town for 1 mile, and you will see Abernethy Old Kirk and Castle Roy on the hill behind it.

If coming from the north, then you should be travelling on the A95; taking a left turn at this junction along the B970 will see you arrive at the castle, which will be situated on your right.

What3words: ///hawks.crossings.crunch
Google Maps: Castle Roy

Is there parking at Castle Roy?

Yes, free parking is available directly next to the castle.

The car park at Castle Roy.
The decent sized car park at Castle Roy.

Is it free to visit Castle Roy?

Yes, there is no admission fee to explore Castle Roy, but why not give them a donation in one of the boxes for the beautiful job they have done restoring the castle?

Can motorhomes stay overnight at Castle Roy?

Surprisingly motorhomes and campervans are welcome to spend the night at the Castle Roy car park; however, there can be no dumping of waste water due to the grazing animals within the nearby fields. So why not give a donation for your stay?

Is camping available at Castle Roy?

There are no ideal places for camping at the castle, and I wouldn't recommend it as an option.

Is there a highland cow at Castle Roy?

Yes! When we visited "Murdo", the highland cow was there to greet us with his friend Buster, the sheep. He seemed pretty friendly but has some impressive horns; I would be wary if going too close!

Murdo the guardian of Castle Roy.
Murdo guards the entrance.

Are there picnic facilities at Castle Roy?

Yes, there are numerous picnic tables around the site.

Picnic table at Castle Roy.
Picnic tables near the castle.

Where is the nearest Cafe to Castle Roy?

Nethy House Cafe is an excellent place to eat in Nethy Bridge.

Are there toilets at Castle Roy?

No, there are no public toilets available at the castle. Nethy Bridge nearby has public toilets located here.

Are there other castles worth exploring nearby?

Yes, Ballindalloch Castle and Drumin Castle are well worth your time and only around a 20-30 minute drive from Castle Roy. Ballindalloch is completely intact, with beautiful gardens, a self-guided tour and a cafe. The Bridge of Avon is also a beautiful place to stop right on the A95. Drumin Castle is a ruin but fascinating and well worth exploring.

Near Ballindalloch, you could also visit the Inveravon StonesMarionburgh Cairn and Stone Circle if you are interested in ancient Scottish history.

Ruthven Barracks, south of Aviemore, is around a 35-minute drive and has an interesting history with the Jacobite rebellions. Ruthven was also built upon the site of a Comyn family castle.

Balvenie CastleLoch An Eilein CastleOld Inverlochy Castle and the island-based Lochindorb Castle are also famous Comyn castles, but further away from Castle Roy than other castles mentioned here.

Lochindorb Castle also built by the Comyns.
Lochindorb Castle, one of the many Comyn family Castles. Pic by John Luckwell.

Castle Roy Videos

Here are a few short videos of our visit to Castle Roy.

West side of the castle showing Postern entrance and picnic spot.
 
Courtyard.
 
Courtyard 360.
 
View from the damaged wall.

Key takeaways

  • Castle Roy is a short distance north of Nethy Bridge on the B970.

  • There is a free dedicated car park.

  • Motorhomes can stay the night at the car park.

  • The castle is around 822 years old.

  • The castle is looked after by the brilliant Castle Roy Trust and had its official opening in September 2022.

  • Abernethy Old Kirk has some interesting gravestones to see.

The path to Castle Roy. It was a lovely day.
The path leading to Castle Roy.

Conclusion

We had a lovely visit to Castle Roy on this cold crisp winter's morning, the new paths and archways in the castle make visiting a joy, and the views from the castle walls are spectacular. It's nice to see how they have saved this castle for future generations, and the Castle Roy Trust should be commended for their efforts.

I highly recommend stopping at Castle Roy while travelling the A95 or visiting Nethy Bridge.

Castle Roy location map

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